Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria was a die-hard matchmaker. Even amid her sorrows in the 1760′s from losing husband and children, and daughter-in-laws to smallpox in the latter two cases, the Empress continued with her marriage plans. The oldest daughter, Marianna, crippled apparently from birth, was destined by her mother for a convent. Vivacious, attractive, Marie-Christine, called Mimi, the second daughter, was her mother’s favorite. Her parents had wanted to betroth Mimi to the French Duc de Chablais, but Mimi held out firmly for her own choice of suitor, Duke Albert of Saxony, a younger son with neither fortune nor prospect of a throne. She got her way; it was a deeply happy match.
The third daughter, Elizabeth, was the great beauty of the family and a born coquette. “So long as she pleases someone, whether it is a soldier on guard duty or a prince, she is content,” her mother once wrote Joseph. Everyone was certain that a brilliant match, probably with a ruling monarch, was in store for Elizabeth. The Empress turned down a proposal from Stanislas, ex-king of Poland, certain that something better would turn up. When King Louis XV of France lost his wife, it seemed possible that the new Franco-Austrian alliance that was arranged by Kaunitz might be cemented by a match between the blooming, young Elizabeth and the elderly monarch.
But as fate would have it, Elizabeth in 1767, came down with small-pox; it was aid that as she grew ill, she asked for a mirror to have one last look at her pretty face. She did not die, but when she held a mirror again, it was to a face horribly ravaged, every trace of beauty destroyed. Her suitors melted away. The lecherous old king of France slyly sent a court painter to do her portrait; the marriage overtures were dropped. Frantically, Elizabeth called in doctors and quacks, tried medicines and salves. When it became clear at last that she was doomed to spinsterhood, Maria Theresa bestowed on her daughter the only life possible for damaged princesses and youngest sons- The Church. As titular head of an order for aged ladies in Innsbruck, Elizabeth continued to live in the Hofburg, a bitter spinster, angry with the world and with her fate.